Taking a quick dip or splashing around in the surf is a great way for dogs to cool off during the summer months. But besides being lots of fun, swimming can also be really beneficial to your dog’s health and wellbeing.
Swimming helps build and maintain healthy muscle mass, and as a non-weight bearing exercise, it’s great for dogs that are recovering from injuries or have arthritis.
But while most dogs can learn to swim, doggy paddle doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some dogs will be more keen than others to take the plunge, and certain breeds aren’t designed for swimming so they may need a little extra help in the water. So with this in mind, here’s our step-by-step guide to safely teach your dog to swim:
Before getting stuck into swimming lessons, make sure your dog is comfortable around water. Throwing your dog in at the deep end is a big no-no. It is not only dangerous, but could put your pooch off water for life!
You want to make your dog’s first experience of water memorable for all the right reasons, so choose a warm day when he will enjoy splashing around in the sunshine. For real beginners and puppies, setting up a kiddie pool in the backyard, which you can fill up gradually, will help you raise confidence levels, and there are always treats and toys for those who need a little more convincing!
Mastering some basic commands, such as “come” will help you both get to grips with swimming faster and knowing “fetch” will be useful for getting your dog accustomed to going in the water and coming back to you.
Invest in a vest
Before taking your dog into water that is out of his depth, it’s also worthwhile investing in a doggy life vest. While some dogs may just need to wear one for their first few swimming lessons, others may always need a little extra help in the water.
For example, Dachshunds and Basset Hounds have shorter legs so they won’t produce as much force with each stroke, while leaner breeds such as Greyhounds don’t have as much fat to keep them afloat. Chow-chows and Pekingese have thicker coats that can become water-logged, and flat-faced breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs often have a hard time breathing when playing or exercising. All these factors can make swimming difficult and cause your dog to tire easily, so opting for a life vest can help make swimming safer and much more enjoyable for your pup.
Vests with handles are great for smaller breeds, and will enable you to support your dog and quickly and easily lift him out of the water if he begins to tire. But before you both take to the water, it’s important your dog gets used to wearing his life vest. He may look a little silly wearing it on walks for a couple of weeks, but you want to avoid any unnecessary distractions once you’re in the water.
Choose the right location
All dogs have different lifestyles, and so choosing the right location for your dog’s first swimming lesson is key. While some of us may have regular access to a pool, others may live near the sea, or by a lake or river, so it’s important to choose somewhere where your dog will be safe and comfortable and will enjoying regularly visiting once he’s a seasoned swimmer!
Choose a location that has calm, shallow and clear water. If you’re using a lake or river, make sure the bank isn’t too steep or slippery, and avoid streams that swell into fast rivers or ridges that turn into cliffs. If you’re starting out on the beach, then try to find a quiet spot and be aware of deeper water and currents. Rough waves can be frightening, especially for dogs that may still be a little nervous around water, so choose a day when the waves are gentler and your dog is happy playing along the shoreline.
If you have a pool or intend to take your dog to a doggy-friendly pool regularly, then taking lessons in a pool can help him get used to his surroundings. However, pools can be dangerous for dogs, and more often than not, a dog will be instantly out of his depth as soon as he gets in, so staying close to the steps and ensuring you are able to lift him out of the water is essential.
Take small steps
Taking small steps is vital for boosting your dog’s confidence. He needs to feel reassured he can get out of the water, which is why choosing somewhere with a gradually sloping shoreline or a kiddie pool is ideal to begin with, so he can paddle in the water and find his own way out safely. If you’ve chosen to learn in a swimming pool, there’s no excuse not to get in too! You’ll make your dog feel at ease and be able to support him much easier if you’re in the water.
Start by tossing a floating toy or ball into the shallows and walking into the water with him before running out. It needs to be fun, so provide lots of praise and treats for good behavior!
Once he’s used to the water, gradually escort him in deeper until he starts to paddle and keep afloat. He may try and lift his front legs to climb out, causing his rear to sink, so it’s important to support his middle while he gets used to paddling.
Once he’s mastered paddling, you can throw floating toys or balls for him to fetch and bring back to you before practicing turning around in the water.
Above all, it’s important to keep swimming lessons short and fun, so stop each session before your dog gets physically or mentally drained to ensure he remains engaged in this new activity. Remember, swimming isn’t for everyone, so if your dog really doesn’t take to water, then please don’t force him – he’ll just end up disliking it more!
Hydrate, rinse and dry
Dogs can become quickly dehydrated, especially in warm weather, so make sure you provide some shade and a drink after swimming. It’s also possible to consume too much water, especially if your dog is carrying a ball in his mouth, so be aware he may need an extra-long walk for toilet breaks and consult your vet if your dog experiences vomiting, bloating, extreme drooling, weakness and widened pupils – he may have contracted water poisoning which can be fatal if untreated.
To avoid skin irritations and ear infections, it’s a good idea to rinse your dog with clean water and make sure he’s dried off, especially in cooler weather. Puppies, elderly dogs and dogs that are already in poor health will be affected by the cold sooner, so if you see signs of hyperthermia (excessive shivering, low body temperature, slow movements and dullness) take him to the closest veterinary clinic as soon as possible.
Even after your pup has mastered the doggy paddle, there are still potential dangers to be aware of while swimming. Even strong swimmers get tired, so your dog may still benefit from a life vest even after he’s learned to swim. And just like humans, it’s important that dogs always wear life vests when on a boat.
While you should always supervise your dog around water, once your pup has grown in confidence, he may be tempted to take a dip whenever he likes, so it’s important to dog-proof your pool if you have one in the back yard. While pool covers may seem safe, they’re actually very deceptive to dogs, so investing in pool fencing is a much safer way to keep your pooch out of the water. Pool alarm systems and dog-friendly pool ladders can also be installed as an added precaution.
Remember, all dogs are different, and like learning any new activity, patience is essential. But if you stick to the short sessions and provide lots of encouragement, your pooch will be swimming circles around you in no time!